Rebels with a Cause: Alberto Caeiro and Heidegger in the Search of Being Through Poetic-Philosophy

by Margarida Duque de Castela Downhour

This paper is an attempt to understand Heidegger’s propositions concerning Being’s rupture from metaphysical models through the poetry of Alberto Caeiro, Fernando Pessoa’s heteronym.

Alberto Caeiro, a poet moved by philosophy, and Martin Heidegger, a philosopher who philosophizes poetically, write in the same period about the same subject-matter: the rupture from traditional modes of thinking that restrain the sense of self and that condition the ways in which one dwells in and perceives the world. Their resistance to -isms separates them from a western humanist tradition constructed on dualisms and skeptical of language, which, for Heidegger, is the epistemology and the very fabric of Being. Heidegger’s philosophy and Pessoa’s fragmented poetry echo each other in a compulsion to grasp the meaning of things. Pessoa throws himself into the world, resisting the limits of the self and unfolding himself in heteronyms (not pseudonyms, but autonomous authors that emerge from Pessoa himself and exist through language), and also the constraints of language through poetry. Though considered the master poet by other heteronyms, Caeiro does not see himself as a poet but a mere “Keeper of sheep” – the sheep are his thoughts. This is an allegory of his ek-sistence and, coincidentally, the poetic rendition of what Heidegger calls, “Shepherd of Being”, an approach to existence that allows one to live more authentically before Being and the event of clearing that allows being to be closer to Being’s essential truth.

“I have ideas and reasons,
Known theories in all their parts,
and never reach the heart.”
Fernando Pessoa

Rebels with a cause: Alberto Caeiro and Heidegger in the search of Being through poetic-philosophy

Pessoa was not a philosopher, rather, a poet moved by philosophy. For Pessoa, poetry is an expression of the self that is fragmented and, therefore, a mode of existence. Alberto Caeiro, one of Pessoa heteronyms expressed in his poetry a mode of being close to what Heidegger wrote and lectured about the Dasein (Being in the world). Alberto Caeiro’s existence as expressed through his poetry presents itself as a very close reflection of Heidegger’s philosophy.
Like Heidegger’s philosophy, Caeiro’s poems resist dualisms, logic, grammar and other metaphysical-based disciplines. Disciplines that, in their attempt to understand the world, separate the abstract from the real and categorize it. Scholars have read Caeiro under the light of many “-isms”: Mysticism, Platonism, Anti-Christianism and Naturalism, but all of these theories and philosophies seem to still confine Alberto Caeiro’s work to the very things he breaks way from, metaphysical-disciplines. Heidegger’s thought, on the other hand, seems to what best compliments Caeiro’s work and highlights the ways in which his poetry frees itself from the constraints of grammatical analysis and rational interpretations.
Heidegger’s philosophy presented in his essay Letter on Humanism and Alberto Caeiro’s poetry reflect each other. What Heidegger does with the philosophical text, Alberto Caeiro does in poetry: they both propose a rupture with metaphysical models and a return to an original understanding of the things themselves, an original mode of being. With this paper I analyze the role poetry plays for Fernando Pessoa, his heteronym Alberto Caeiro and Heidegger. Underlying the poets’ and Heidegger’s thoughts there is a strong attempt to break away from traditional modes of thinking: Pessoa breaks himself up and explores his multiple identities through poetry. Caeiro, one of those identities, questions the –isms that Heidegger criticizes while poetically embodying Heidegger’s interpretation of Being-in-the-world: a being who is neither subject nor object, but one whose existence is enmeshed and engaged in the world.

Until Heidegger’s influence, the traditional Western humanist tradition, had been founded on metaphysical assumptions and formatted to philosophize within the same dualist tradition that experienced the sharpening of its dualist contours with Descartes’ cogito ergo sum; in the process, language, as a way of constructing the world, was devalued and deemed cryptic, paradoxical and inconclusive. Suspicious of the false rhetoric of the Sophists and even of the fallible meanings of the written word, Plato defended the idea that the speech act is the way that the philosopher uses to make his ideas present in the material world, hence Plato’s insistence on the conversational approach to concepts, where one can question and be questioned, and the subject of the conversation can be cross-examined. From Plato’s perspective, this epistemological exercise is more fruitful than reading, for reading leaves the inquirer alone with the text, questioning it but with no possibility of receiving a response back from its author; there is no dialogue and no active participation in the meaning-making process. It is because language, at the service of philosophy, is an intermediary between the world of ideas and the world of manifestations and it renders visible (or audible) what comes from the philosopher’s intellect/soul. Plato is afraid of the potential of the language to be an unreliable and untrustworthy art form that veils more about reality than it reveals.

Platonic dialogues privilege participation in the shared construction of truths using making use. There is then a sharp contrast between technical language (the language of reason) and poetic and everyday language. In order to make sense of the world’s phenomena, the technical language has been regarded by Western humanists as the most reliable tool to explain a divine, transcendental or metaphysical will. This world-building and organizing will can thus be interpreted as an instrument that one can use to learn about the world through various sciences, which make the world intelligible. The Enlightenment project of demystifying the world with technical language and the use of empirical knowledge to understand how things work, what they are and why, rationalizes the world thus allowing humans to tinker with it on behalf of progress and betterment of human existence. The Enlightenment rationale is that if the world is intelligible through the language of reason therefore not only the creative force(s) can be understood by it but also the truth of reality, including being. The other two forms of language, poetic and everyday on the other hand, are ever evolving languages that, due to their resistance to categorization and fixed meanings, have been stripped of their legitimacy as meaning making devices. Skepticism surrounding the project of the Enlightenment ideals, however, gave rise to an alternative perspective on the properties of language, such as the one proposed by the 18th century Italian historian and philosopher Giambattista Vico. Vico stands out from the very persuasive collective of progressives who, inspired by the power of science, trusted and highly advocated for the scientific method as the “master key” to acquire knowledge. Vico, in contrast to ideas about the use of language to drive progress and understand the nature of being, defends the idea that language is the actual origin of man’s creationist drive and not mathematical formulas. He argues that before unknown natural phenomena, the primordial man first used metaphor to imagine the unintelligible reality, thus triggering the beginning of history and populating the meaningful world with “languages, gods, social practices … sciences and philosophies”. Vico acknowledges poetic language as a valid epistemology that educates man in the understanding of human existence as well as inquiring skeptically the progressive and hegemonic future advocated by positivist rationalists.

Heidegger: Ek-sistence and Being
A century later, in the early 1900’s, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger picks on a similar idea about language and expands it in order to investigate the nature of being, and in the process, redefines a whole western humanist tradition. Heidegger set himself with the gargantuan task of revolutionizing centuries-long western thought, which has since influenced every sphere of knowledge from politics to science, from psychology to linguistics. Man was regarded as the subject and the world around it was the object of his inquiry; man could be separated into body and mind, body and soul and the world was divided into visible and invisible, material and ideal, sensorial and reason, or earthly and divine. Heidegger, suspicious of western philosophical tradition deeply rooted in metaphysics, adopts an alternative perspective that breaks away from the so-called humanist tradition thus far and defends the idea that the world and its beings cannot be fixed and separated, that beings participate in the world as Beings and not as categorical and metaphysical entities/things. Heidegger debunks the humanist dualist tradition by privileging the use of poetic language over technical reasoning. For Heidegger, existence (Dasein – being there) does not predicate the separation between subject and world and that Being-in-the-world (Dasein) and understanding one’s existence in a primordial way and outside of the restraints of metaphysics, is only possible through poetic language. For Heidegger, the poetic being is the being closest to be in the clearance, that is, closest to have knowledge of himself and of the world and poetic language, the event that both conceals being itself from experiencing that clearing but also, what enables being to come close to his/her essential truth.
Heidegger wants to contradict Cartesian dualisms by proposing that man is conceived not as a conscience separated from the world (transcendental to it) but as “Dasein” whose original mode of being is the participation in that world. Furthermore, Heidegger suggests that science has not been able to determine what the human essence consists of, for it was not discovered in atomic energy, not discovered in brain chemistry or psychoanalysis. Instead, Heidegger suggests that the essence of human beings is hidden from the technical/rational mind. In order to step away from dualist traditional school of thoughts charged with static concepts as existencia and essencia, Heidegger introduces the concept of ek-sistence. He explains that Man ek-sists and is always in a relationship between the ek-sistence, the dwelling of Being or the “Da” (there) in the “Da-sein” and, existencia, the realm of beings. Ek-sistence is the primordial realm where the truth of the self shines and provides clearing to oneself; ek-sisting is prior to a mode of thinking that is representational (the realm of existencia). Given that for Heidegger existencia does not actually address being’s relation to Da-sein (the place of clearing and where Being resides), then the concept of essencia, which is defined in relation to existencia, is insufficient to examine the truth of Being. The essence of Being thus lies in its ek-sistence and not in essencia. In order to reconstruct the western humanist thought, Heidegger reframes concepts and reverses the focus of knowledge from the search for definitions to the search for meaning; Heidegger does not ask “what is the meaning of being?” but rather, “what is being?”.
Heidegger, seeks to liberate language “from grammar into a more original essential framework [that] is reserved for thought and poetic creation.”(240) He writes in a way that reflects the intimate relationship among man (being), Dasein (Being), and language. Hence Heidegger’s poetic writing style and his high praise of the poets, who are the guardians of language, for “their guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of being insofar as they bring this manifestation to language and preserve it in language through their saying.”(239) Poets, through language, render visible what Heidegger defines as the ek-sisting of the human being, because poetic language resists being instrumentalized and formatted by scientific language, thus opening a more authentic dimension of language that is potentially purer and closer to the original place of Being.
But, while Heidegger dwells in philosophical text and poetic language in order to collapse metaphysics and escape from its structures, a Portuguese poet of the name Fernando Pessoa attempts to do a similar thing through poetry.
“Poetry, for Pessoa was more than life, or rather something different, capable of providing a relief from his daily routine. If poets merely dish out to the reader what they really feel in their day-to-day life, then they are giving too little, according to Pessoa.” (Zenith 4). A poet who is truly a poet cannot be otherwise. Writing is an involuntary necessity. Pessoa’s being compels him to do so as means of self-preservation. Poetry thus cannot be understood as anything but the manifestation of the poetic self who is delivered in the form of a poem. The poet nears ek-sistence through the poetic language; he gives himself through his writing thus allowing the reader to participate in the poet’s ek-sistence. In his poem, Autopsicografia (Autopsychography), Pessoa writes:
The poet is a faker
Who’s so good at his act
He even fakes the pain he feels in fact

And those who read his words
Will feel in what he writes
Neither of the pains he has
But just the one they don’t O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor/ a dor que deveras sente

E os que lêem o que escreve,
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve

Pessoa demonstrates how the poet, making use of an art form which is commonly disregarded as mimetic, cannot but express an authentic pain which, in Pessoa’s poem, “he feels in fact”. Traditional thinkers could read the first stanza of the poem and agree that both the poet and his art form are nothing but a poor imitation of reality. However, the second stanza rebounds from that assumption, and though still following the conceptual idea of ‘fakeness’ associated to poetry, And because the Poet fails so badly at being a faker and comes through as a truthful being, those who read cannot help but feel the pain of the poet. Poetry is indeed fake, because it not only gives what the poet is but it discloses the possibilities for what the readers are or could become, before they they realize it. This poetic design and intention intercepts Heidegger’s fundamental ontology of being and the role of language in that process.

Fernando Pessoa’s birth was one year shy of Heidegger’s. He was born in Lisbon in 1888 but two and half years after the death of his father at the age of 5, Pessoa moved with his family, mother, stepfather and siblings to South Africa, where he spent his adolescence studying at an English school. As a child, he was already a fantastic student and writer and began demonstrating a propensity to write under various pen names. This disposition of multiplying himself in his writing gained a greater dimension as Pessoa incessantly unfolded himself in multiple heteronyms whose identities are so distinct from each other and from the creator that they should be regarded as autonomous authors. Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms represent different worldviews, modes of being and distinct humanistic traditions. They are entities with their own biographies, personality traits, astrological maps and they most definitely cross the threshold of fiction and reality, of imagination and reality, for they even know each other, have met “in person”, exchanged correspondence and, on occasion, even crossed paths with Pessoa himself. One anecdote in regards to his lack of control over his self-multiplication, tells that Pessoa’s
“only romantic liaison, largely epistolary, was prevented from going forward by the constant interference of Álvaro de Campos [a heteronym], who so exasperated the beloved Ophelia Queiroz, that she finally declared she hated him. Pessoa in the end, preferred to remain with Álvaro and the other literary characters he had spawn single-handedly” (Zenith 5)
This somewhat comical episode in the life of Fernando Pessoa highlights his extreme need for a multiplicity and a rupture from traditional modes of being and of relationship with others. Through these heteronyms, Pessoa manifests hidden philosophies and actions that he, himself, wouldn’t say or do explicitly, such as annoying Ophelia to the point of breaking up. Despite his acute personality fragmentation, Pessoa was lucid about himself and not entirely lost in his fragmented personality. This, in fact, made Pessoa very sensible and in tune with the world; his being could not be contained in one single identity and the knowledge of the world through the knowledge of one single identity was not possible for Pessoa to encapsulate. In one poem Pessoa writes:
I don’t know how many souls I have
I’ve changed at each moment
Continuously a stranger.
I’ve never seen or completed myself
From being so much, I have only soul Não sei quantas almas tenho
Cada momento mudei
Continuamente estranho
Nunca me vi nem acabei
De tanto ser só tenho alma.

Through various poetic personae, Pessoa himself breaks away from the self that he lived with throughout his life and that others know as Pessoa. His fragments or masks in the form of poems, manifest multiple ways of understanding the reality in relation to himself. Writing through the various heteronyms becomes an exercise of self-contemplation, self-exploration and an urge to grasp meaning or even come to terms with a seemingly meaningless life. Perhaps we can see Pessoa’s compulsion to unfold himself in multiple personae as an act of throwing himself onto the world. According to Heidegger, “the human being is ‘thrown’ by being itself into the truth of being”, as someone who has become estranged from the world and from himself, Pessoa throws himself out of himself. One can say he did not plan to do so, just like “Humans beings do not decide whether and how beings appear” (Heidegger 252). Instead, this movement of throwing into a place of clearing is rather involuntary and uncontrollable.
A reflection of such movement outside of himself is Fernando Pessoa’s exploration of the self by constantly resisting an unfixed identity that transpires onto other individualities, each expressed in different kinds of writing. Scholars have found seventy-two heteronyms, but three are especially prolific and well defined by Pessoa: Alberto Caeiro, ‘The Unwitting Master”; Ricardo Reis, the Neo-classical Epicurean, and Álvaro de Campos, the globe-trotting Sensationalist turned Existentialist. Of all these three heteronyms, I would like to pay particular attention to Alberto Caeiro, for his poetry reflects clearly his way of “being-in-the-world”, and thus approaches what Heidegger sought through philosophy and his theory about Dasein. As Caeiro’s cognomen, “The Unwitting Master”, suggests, he is perceived has the master poet in Pessoa’s universe but, curiously, Caeiro didn’t even know he was a poet, much less a master of poetry and philosophy. Caeiro’s “occupation” is that of a keeper of sheep; his disregard for metaphysics, his simplicity of thought and poetic spontaneity echo the “Shepherd” that Heidegger wishes man will become. There seems to be a proximity between Heidegger’s philosophy and Caeiro’s poetry, both still rocking the world and creating an impact, or rather, the sort of clearing or nearness to Dasein, in the reader.

Alberto Caeiro, an ingenuous, unlettered countryside man, says he does not believe in God, or rather, he does, if he is to assume that everything that exists is His creation and manifestation, such as the trees, the moon, the sun and the stone. At first sight, Caeiro seems to identify himself as a mystical individual and an Anti-Christ when in fact he merely does not conceive of any kind of separation between himself and the others, between the earth and heaven or between the visible and the invisible world. Pessoa says that “He [Caeiro] sees things not with his mind but with his senses”. Inadvertently writing poetically and inadvertently philosophizing, Caeiro’s poetic being becomes Heidegger’s aspiration for man’s ek-sistence in the world. In his poetry and in particular in poem number five from The Keeper of Sheep, Caeiro criticizes the notions of metaphysics: transcendent reality; opposition between appearance and essence; subject and object. He also rejects rationalism and accuses metaphysics and even poets of veiling man from the real world.

To not think of anything is metaphysics enough
What do I think of the world?
Who knows what I think of it!
If I fell ill then I would think of it.
What’s my idea about things?
What’s my opinion about causes and effects?
What have I been meditating on God and the soul
And the creation of the World?
I don’t know. To think about such things would be to shut my eyes
And not think. It would be to close the curtains
Of my window (which, however, has no curtains).
The mystery of things? What mystery?
The only mystery is that some people think about mystery.
If you’re in the sun and close your eyes,
You begin not to know what the sun is,
And you think about various warm things.
But open your eyes and you see the sun,
And you can no longer think about anything,
Because the light of the sun is truer than the thoughts
Of all philosophers and all poets.
The light of the sun doesn’t know what it does,
And so it cannot err and is common and good.

Metaphysics? What metaphysics do those trees have?
Only that of being green and lush and of having branches
Which bear fruit in their season, and we think nothing of it.

We hardly even notice them.
But what better metaphysics than theirs,
Which consists in not knowing why they live
And in not knowing that they don’t know?
Há metafísica bastante em não pensar em nada.
O que penso eu do mundo?
Sei lá o que penso do mundo!
Se eu adoecesse pensaria nisso.
Que idéia tenho eu das cousas?
Que opinião tenho sobre as causas e os efeitos?
Que tenho eu meditado sobre Deus e a alma
E sobre a criação do Mundo?
Não sei. Para mim pensar nisso é
fechar os olhos
E não pensar. É correr as cortinas
Da minha janela (mas ela não tem cortinas).
O mistério das cousas? Sei lá o que é mistério!
O único mistério é haver quem pense no mistério.
Quem está ao sol e fecha os olhos,
Começa a não saber o que é o sol
E a pensar muitas cousas cheias de calor.
Mas abre os olhos e vê o sol,
E já não pode pensar em nada,
Porque a luz do sol vale mais que os pensamentos
De todos os filósofos e de todos os poetas.
A luz do sol não sabe o que faz
E por isso não erra e é comum e boa.

Metafísica? Que metafísica têm aquelas árvores?
A de serem verdes e copadas e de terem ramos
E a de dar fruto na sua hora, o que não nos faz pensar,
A nós, que não sabemos dar por elas.
Mas que melhor metafísica que a delas,
Que é a de não saber para que vivem
Nem saber que o não sabem?

The first verse of the poem succinctly states Heidegger’s main opinions on traditional forms of humanism thought from which he wants to break away: a metaphysical thinking whose technical language prevents us from experiencing the truth of things. Caeiro starts his poem by precisely criticizing a thought governed by metaphysical grids, designed to explain the world in a given manner but that also prevent us from nearing Dasein, hiding us from Being. For Caeiro, this sort of thought is burdensome and steers us away from participating in things as they are: “to think about things is to shut my eyes“, and blind oneself to the world. Caeiro also says that to think (metaphysically) is to “close the curtains Of my window (which, however, has no curtains)”; the truth of his being and of the world, the primordial essence of Being has no curtains, no interpretations and it just is. Hence the absence of mystery. What makes things mysterious is one’s attempt to filter ek-sistence through metaphysical thought (-isms). As Heidegger writes in Letter on Humanism, “Every humanism is either grounded in metaphysics or is itself made to be ground of one. Every determination of the essence of the human being already presupposes and interpretations of beings without asking about the truth of being, whether knowingly or not, is metaphysical” (245). As Caeiro points out in the poem, the trees do not occupy their lives trying to find out why they live, they just do and simply are and that is why he wishes to be like a tree or a sunflower, because it meant that his understanding wouldn’t have to be limited to metaphysical categories that force humans to decide between dualisms and assumptions; this way of experiencing the world establishes a dualistic understanding of the it and pushes humans to choose between things and engaging in conflicts within themselves. By not thinking, or rather, by not reading scientifically into the things around him, Caeiro is able to rid himself of the structures of knowledge that bind beings to a worldview that prevents humans from participating in the most original experiences of Being with the world. In other verses Caeiro questions directly the validity of those who think metaphysically:
“The inner makeup of things…”
“The inner meaning of the Universe…”
All of this is false and it doesn’t mean anything.
It’s incredible that anyone can think about such things.
It’s like thinking about reasons and objectives
When morning is breaking, and down the trunks of the trees
A faint glimmer of gold is dissolving darkness.
“Constituição íntima das coisas”…
“Sentido íntimo do Universo”…
Tudo isto é falso, tudo isto não quer dizer nada.
É incrível que se possa pensar em coisas dessas.
É como pensar em razões e fins
Quando o começo da manhã está raiando, e pelos lados das árvores
Um vago ouro lustroso vai perdendo a escuridão.
Caeiro does not explicitly say it, but his poetic criticism reveals how absurd he thinks metaphysics is as frequently as Spinoza in his “which is absurd” to unscientific prepositions. The poet debunks metaphysics through writing; rebellion from traditional modes of being comes to him naturally and honestly. His poetry immerses us in the poet’s experience. Reading Caeiro is often like taking a stroll around the countryside, where he lives and writes; there, things are not organized using logic and his verses lead our attention from flowers to trees, back to flowers, and then to the sun and the hills—just as our gaze and steps would wander if we were in the country. It is with a nonchalant endeavor and simple mindedness that Caeiro evades rational structures that codify reality with hidden meanings and mysteries. Unlike Platonists, for whom the real world is accessible through thought and reason, such a dualist attitude does not seems to correspond to Caeiro’s mode of being in the world. On the contrary, the manifested world (not only the metaphysical one) is the real world; what Caeiro feels and sees are not signs for something outside of themselves. With a passive and simple demeanor rendered in poetry, Caeiro rebels against the traditional ways of producing meaning using logic, and thus he introduces an alternative way of understanding the world, and of living in it.
As mentioned earlier, Caeiro is seen by the other heteronyms as the master. Because Caeiro suggests that one’s notion of the self and the world does not have to be restrained and constantly negotiated according to a categorized worldview and a fixed identity. Thus, inspiring other to follow a path devoid of suffering. For Fernando Pessoa, Caeiro also offers a glimpse of a salvation from his pain of living. In another episodic anecdote about Pessoa’s encounters with the heteronyms, Richard Zenith, a scholar and translator of Pessoa, writes on how Fernando Pessoa and Alberto Caeiro met and about the impact of this encounter that was recounted by Àlvaro de Campos, another heteronym:

they met for the first time on March 8, 1914, and Pessoa, completely shaken up on hearing Caeiro reading poems from his Keeper of Sheep, immediately went home to write verses of a kind he never could have produced otherwise. For Fernando, afflicted by an ‘overly keen sensibility’ coupled with an ‘overly keen mind’, the direct and ingenuous poetry of Caeiro acted like a ‘vaccine against stupidity of the intelligent’. It is Àlvaro de Campos [the same heteronym who broke up Pessoa with his beloved Ophelia] who recounts the meeting of these two men (Zenith 41)
Writing Caeiro is a hypothetical remedy for Pessoa’s existential and fragmented relationship with the world and himself, and a way to get to “the heart of the truth he did not believe in or to get to the heart of himself, which he also did not believe in” (Zenith 13). Instead of getting anywhere, however, the self-analysis merely accrued, filling in an internal void in Pessoa, taking the place of the self he might have had he’d been more adept at living in the world” (Zenith 13). Pessoa could not swallow his heteronyms and take in the totality of their being because he so strongly resisted the idea of absolutism, thus what is left for Pessoa is to follow them, that is, to be guided by the parts of himself that are themselves complex, conflicting and flawed. Alberto Caeiro, the master, shows the way out of the heteronyms existential angst but, unfortunately for them, he dies at the early age of 26 of tuberculosis. He left, however, his true self manifested in his works.
Like Pessoa’s urge to write, Caeiro’s poetry is also quite involuntary, in the sense that it emerges spontaneously as if Caeiro’s thoughts were merely pouring onto the paper and taking the shape of letters and words. In Caeiro’s work, poetry is not a mediator between reality and perception, it’s spontaneous, like a photographic language: natural, simple with no abstractions used to portray the world as it is. By rendering his experiencing of the world in his poems, the poem opens itself to us and through the poem, we learn of how the poet sees the world, or rather, how he experiences it with all of his being. Caeiro writes his thoughts freely on paper, unmediated by a metaphysic or technical language. His ideas flow from himself onto the paper in the form of poetry. He is not a subject writing poetry about an object; Caeiro’s writing is a manifestation of his being, an expansion of his self that occurs spontaneously in stanzas such as the following, which do not abide to a rigorous poetic form:
When I sit down to write verses
Or while I walk along roads and pathways,
I jot verses on a piece of paper that is in my mind
I feel a staff in my hand
And see my own profile
On the top of a low hill
Looking after my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or looking after my ideas and seeing my flock,
And smiling vaguely, like one who doesn’t grasp what it is said
But wants to pretend he does. Quando me sento a escrever versos
Ou passeando pelos caminhos ou pelos atalhos,
Escrevo versos num papel que está no meu pensamento
Sinto um cajado nas mãos
E vejo um recorte de mim
No cimo dum outeiro
Olhando o meu rebanho e vendo as minhas idéias,
Ou olhando para as minhas idéias e vendo o meu rebanho,
E sorrindo vagamento como quem não compreende o que se diz
E quer fingir que compreende.

He is a poet because he doesn’t know how not to be one, Caeiro writes: Saúdo todos os que me lerem (…) E ao lerem os meus versos pensem/Que sou qualquer cousa natural/ “I salute all who may read me (…) And as they read my poems, I hope/ They think I’m something natural”. Caeiro is his poetry and his poems are a most truthful reflection of his Being. He is a being in the world or, as Heidegger would say, he is Dasein.
Thinking, for Pessoa, is a problematic activity but not one that is entirely rejected, only when it dwells in metaphysics. Fernando Pessoa found relief in the poetry of Caeiro precisely because it resisted thinking too much, too categorically and analytically; something that Pessoa himself did to the point of exhaustion and self-alienation. Heidegger is not against thinking, but only the perspective of a form of order that passes for thinking but hides Being. He differentiates between different kinds of thoughts, one that is technical and that belongs to the realm of metaphysics, and another that is irrational. The latter mode of thinking is the common denominator among humans and the link that “accomplished the relation of being to the essence of the human being.” (Heidegger 239) According to Heidegger, our ability of thinking outside of the “technical-theoretical exactness of concepts” allows humans to participate in the world of things, of beings and near Dasein. Participation in this world is possible through language, the dwelling place of humans. Without throwing themselves out of the metaphysical grid that pulls them away from the primordial dwelling of Being, humans become homeless; homeless to their own true self. Heidegger insists that there has not been a separation of the soul from a Divine superabundance, nor a fall from heaven; there was and there is an alienation of humans from their own humanity result of the predominance of metaphysical thought.
Alberto Caeiro’s labels of master, pure mystic, antichrist, the poet of nature and anti-metaphysical correspond partially to his mode of being in the world, Caeiro, however, sees himself simply as a Shepherd. This nomenclature might be deceiving, for Caeiro did not have a profession, he lived in the country with his aunt but “fancied himself a shepherd, with thoughts instead of sheep for his flock” (Zenith 39). The Keeper of Sheep is Caeiro’s metaphorical occupation and also the name of his first collection of poems. Both of these interconnected aspects of Caeiro – the allegory for his philosophy and his poems as the rendition of his identity – coincides with Heidegger’s metaphor that suggests that “the human being is the shepherd of being” (Heidegger 252). As the shepherd of being, humans ought to guard their ek-sistence, their humanity from going astray, like sheep following mindlessly whatever epistemological systems that govern one’s language and taints one’s understanding of the their being in the world. “Thinking conducts historical ek-sistence, that is, the humanitas of homo humanus, into the realm of the upsurgence of healing” (Heidegger 252). For Heidegger, this kind of thinking brings being into language and it is through thought that being overcomes metaphysics and abandons the region of homo animalis, ascending then to the primordial realm of Being, a “fundamental ontology” where the truth of being emerges. One of Caeiro’s poems explores the above mentioned idea of a way of thinking that is different from the traditional metaphysical thought and the poet’s coming into the reality through his nearness to the reality and to the true meaning of Being.
I am a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And each thought, sensations.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.
To think a flower is to see and smell it,
And to eat a fruit is to know its meaning.

That is why on a hot day
When I enjoy it so much I feel sad,
And I lie down in the grass
And close my warm eyes,
Then I feel my whole body lying down in reality,
I know the truth, and I’m happy.
Sou um guardador de rebanhos.
O rebanho é os meus pensamentos
E cada pensamento são todos sensações.
Penso com os olhos e com os ouvidos
E com as mãos e o pés
E com o nariz e a boca.
Pensar uma flor é vê-la e cheirá-la
E comer um fruto é saber-lhe o sentido.

Por isso quando num dia de calor
Me sinto triste de gozá-lo tanto,
E me deito ao comprido na erva,
E fecho os olhos quentes,
Sinto todo o meu corpo deitado na realidade,
Sei a verdade e sou feliz.
Caeiro inverts the idea of “thought” just like he does with the traditional concept of God: Mas se Deus é as flores e as árvores/E os montes e o sol e o luar/Então acredito nele?”But if God is the flowers and trees/And hills and sun and moon/Then why should I call him God?”. Caeiro does not care of the pre-existent definitions and signifiers attached to these words. For him, thoughts are sensations and that kind of thought is the truth, because he can experience reality with more certainty and assurance than a physics’ formula could communicate. For the keeper of sheep, the sheep are his thoughts and he keeps them from seeking meaning in metaphysics, in language, in religion and in reason, because those are things that distract him from being in the world and from valuing his experience of the present that is ever changing. For the poet, writing is like walking; Caeiro does not submit these movements to the scrutiny of mechanics and processes. He does it as casually as he experiences the rain falling over him. Without the instrumentality of metaphysics, Caeiro lives in a primordial existence, like that of a child, as if he was born into the world at each moment. As every human being, Caeiro is born into a world, of oneness and unity. He lives in the womb, in a world that presents itself to him as the “eternal novelty”. Someone who lives as such doesn’t acknowledge things as intrinsically separated from each other. And because his mode of being hasn’t been separated from this moment of birth, for Caeiro there is no other reality, there is no Christian creator, no Freudian triplicity (id, ego and super-ego) nor Lacan’s three orders of being. Caeiro is aware of how others see the world and that is why he is able to comment on that:
Hello keeper of sheep
There on the side of the road.
What does the blowing wind say to you?

That it’s wind and that it blows,
And that it has blown before,
And that it will blow hereafter.
And what does it say to you?”

Much more than that.
It speaks to me of many other things:
Of memories and nostalgias,
And of things that never were.”

You’ve never heard the wind blow.
The wind only speaks of the wind.
What you heard was a lie,
And the lie is in you. Olá guardador de rebanhos,
Aí à beira da estrada,
Que te diz o vento que passa

Que é vento, e que passa,
E que já passou antes,
E que passará depois,
E ti o que te diz?

Muita coisa mais do que isso
Fala-me de muitas outras coisas.
De memórias e de saudades
E de coisas que nunca foram.

Nunca ouviste passar o vento.
O vento só fala do vento.
O que lhe ouviste foi mentira,
E a mentira está em ti.
Translation by Richard Zenith
Clearly, because Caeiro does not feel the same way and does not condition his existence to metaphysical schools of thought, he cannot express himself differently than how he participates in the world. Caeiro doesn’t know deceit or dishonesty; his language and poetry are as authentic and as truthful as he is capable of being. Caeiro is already doing what Heidegger aspires man to do, that is, to return to his primordial abode, to a purer use of language that does not predicate the instrumentalization and formatting of the technical-theoretical language. For Heidegger, poetry is the rendition of the authentic mode of being he is advocating. Poetry offers itself to interpretation, unpredictability and open meanings – just like the world, where there is no fixed beginning or end, where everything is in a process of becoming, everything is dynamic, interactive and so is poetry.
By uniting poetry to philosophy, Caeiro and Heidegger invite us to meditate on the original questions of being: that there is Being beyond the metaphysical thought and the rigor of language and that there are other ways of perceiving the world and oneself.

Works cited

Heidegger, Martin. Letter on “Humanism”. Translated by Frank A. Capuzzi. Pathmarks. Ed. William
McNeil, Cambridge University Press, 1998

Pessoa, Fernando. Fernando Pessoa & Co. – Selected poems. Edited and translated by Richard Zenith.
New York: Grove Press, 1998

Pessoa, Fernando. Arquivo Pessoa. May 8th, 2016.

Works consulted

Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by Donald A.
Cress. Indiana/Cambridge: Hacket Publishing Co, 1998

Luft, Sandra. The divinity of human making and doing in the 18th century. – A companion to
Enlightenment Historiography. Edited by Sophie Bourgault and Robert Sparling.
Leiden/Boston: BRILL, 2013

de Spinoza, Benedict. The Ethics and other works. Edited and translated by Edwin Curley. A Spinoza
Reader. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994

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